Gaining support for disability equality

Shadow minister for disabled people endorses UNISON’s equality work

UNISON disabled members have won support for the union’s disability equality in the workplace campaigns from Labour’s new shadow minister for disabled people, Vicky Foxcroft MP (pictured).

Members of the national disabled members’ committee had the chance to question Vicky at an online meeting over the summer.

Vicky started by telling members about her background in the trade union movement and her own experience of “shielding” during COVID-19.

Vicky has rheumatoid arthritis and the medication she takes means she is extremely vulnerable to the virus.

At the start of the crisis she was able to do her job as an MP from home, but then the government changed the rules and she is now denied the ability to fully participate in the House of Commons.

Angela Hamilton from Northern region and a member of UNISON’s NEC welcomed Vicky to her new role. She said: “It’s great to have a Labour shadow minister who actually understands disability, unlike the Conservative government minister for disabled people.”

Angela went on to ask Vicky to raise the need for statutory guidance, so employers know they need to take extra steps to keep disabled people safe from coronavirus.

Vicky said: “Many disabled people are suffering with their mental health because of the fear of going back to work in light of confusing government guidance. Employers tell us they want this guidance as well. I will keep pushing the government on this.”

Support for homeworking

Louise Ashworth form Barnardos branch asked Vicky about UNISON’s recent survey of disabled members during COVID-19, which found over 73% were more productive while working from home.

The shadow minister said: “The pandemic has shown we can adapt to homeworking overnight when required. We need to ensure we take what is positive out of this crisis. I’m keen to work closely with UNISON on calling for a new right to home working for disabled people who need it.”

Louise said: “Vicky has been blocked by the government from doing her job in the House of Commons because she is shielding. I think a lot of disabled workers are in a similar position with their jobs and I know Vicky will fight for our right to work from home if we need to.”

Iain Scott-Burdon and Gillian Jeffrey’s from the Deaf caucus asked about face masks. Vicky agreed that some Deaf and disabled people are receiving unacceptable abuse if they can’t wear a mask and the government has not communicated the requirements properly.

In response to a question from Amanda Sweetlove from Northern Ireland, Vicky said that trade union rights needed to be stronger because disabled workers are more likely to be treated fairly if they’re in a union.

Vicky also agreed with Carl Phillips from the North West region that enforcement of reasonable adjustments needs to be tougher so that some UNISON disabled members don’t have to wait for a year or more to get the equipment they need.

Vicky agreed to ensure a future Labour government has a dedicated minister for disabled people, with responsibility for more than just welfare benefits and with cross-departmental authority. She wholeheartedly agreed to support UNISON’s year of disabled workers, now planned for 2022.

The meeting was chaired by Tansaim Hussain-Gul, a member of the British Gas branch, who said: “It was great to have so many of our disabled members able to ask questions of Labour’s shadow minister.

“UNISON is at the forefront of fighting for disability equality and we will continue to press Labour to do more to show up the government’s failures and to put forward a positive Labour vision for equality, independence and inclusion. We’re delighted to be able to work with Labour’s Vicky Foxcroft on this.”

Find out more – UNISON’s homeworking and disability report (word doc)